Overlord Rising

Session 5

The mines beneath our fallen city are miserable. Water drips down
every wall, leaving expanses of cold mud where it mixes with the dust
from generations of mining. The air is stale, and grows increasingly
foul every day since we collapsed the tunnels behind us. The
conditions are barely bearable, but even so, we are thankful. There
are dozens more men here than we had hoped for, shuffling in and out
of the everburning torchlight, living hollow lives in our sad
sanctuary… but alive nonetheless! Souls have been spared, and
families reunited, thanks to the heroes from the west.

The news had come mere weeks ago. Riders and boatsmen began to tell of
brutal invaders, who had somehow overtaken Capital City. It seemed an
impossible notion, that any army could have captured such a prize! But
as the days went on, we heard more details… of dragons, and towering
skeletons, and of endless soldiers pouring from massive black boats.
And as both attacker and defender fell, their bodies were immediately
raised as lifeless undead in order to continue the assault.

The news grew worse on each progressive day. We heard that the
invaders came in the name of an overlord from far across the sea. They
were gradually moving eastward, taking over each town as they passed
it. They would mercilessly slaughter any who opposed them, and were
enslaving wizards and priests. Any commoners lucky enough to remain
living were forced to be branded on their forehead, as if they were
livestock. The Overlord’s attack was brutal and swift.

We also received word of a great black dragon flying along the river,
and several times we ourselves thought we caught glimpse of such a
beast in the distance, circling like a foul carrion crow.

Here in the city of gems, we were anxious about the approaching army,
but were nonetheless confident that we were safe inside our mountain.
Even an army which had taken Capital City would have a hard time
breaching our defenses, as our home was an uncommon fortress. We lived
in the bowels of our mountain, behind a facade carved directly on to
the cliff face. The only entrance was a set of huge stone doors, which
faced a deep lake forming a moat. Once we removed the bridge and
docks, any invaders would need to cross hundreds of feet of water and
smash open the doors while we pelted them from our arrow slits.

Once we thought an attack was looming, we sent the boats away and
dismantled the bridge that crossed from the outer landing to our
doors. For several days we manned a single raft, welcoming refugees as
them came to the city for shelter, but we stopped the rescue
activities and brought the raft inside as soon as our sentries saw the
first smoke from the approaching invaders.

Over a few days, the Overlord’s force grew larger as individual units
- each formed of a dozen to two dozen men – arrived and set up camp
alongside the lake. I spent my days in the sentry battlements. My
spells were not useful for divinitation, but my eyesight is keen and I
helped with the spyglass. We watched the army mass below us, but still
felt safe. I spent hours with Captain Brouhaha, discussing strategies
for dispersing the army before they could attack.

One morning, we saw that the soldiers were felling trees nearby.
Before long, the crashing of trees gave way to the sounds of industry.
With concern, we beheld that the army was building not just rafts, but
siege engines as well! The clearing began to fill with ballista and
trebuchet. We were surprised, because in order for them to be building
the engines at such pace they needed to have a huge number of
engineers and skilled craftsmen. We puzzled over this, until the
spyglass helped us realize that the machines were being hastily
assembled and would be unlikely to even work. Why would they try to
mislead us – did they think we would surrender? There would be no
reason to! Even a thousand flung rocks would do little against our
magically-hardened stone doors.

As we watched through the next day, however, we began to realize that
the engines were not just there to fool us. Alongside the area of
construction, the soldiers dug pits, and concealed them with sheets of
canvas. Groups of men crawled into each pit, creating a crude trap. We
deduced that there must still be loyalists hiding in the wilderness
and causing havoc for the invaders. We were safe, but we feared for
our brave countrymen who would blindly stumble into the trap while
trying to save our city!

Finally, a force of some eight score soldiers had amassed below us.
They had come in caravans with many strange wagons that they kept
covered, as if they had a great surprise in store for us. In the
clearing, they had dug a huge pit irrigated by a canal from the river,
and they had filled it with wooden rafts. Obviously, they intended to
assault the city soon, and anticipated that our flaming arrows would
do little good against well-soaked rafts.

Night fell, but on this night there was a nervous feeling in the air.
Captain Brouhaha and I were both in the southern battlement, observing
the fires below us. Suddenly, we heard crashing from the direction of
the clearing, as if a hundred drunken monks were stomping through a
pile of firewood. It was followed by the sounds of a quick, punctuated
battle; weapons met, but in mere seconds the night was quiet again.
Hoots and mocking calls echoed from the main encampment. Apparently,
the Overlord’s men had ambushed some would-be heroes, and had soundly
beaten them.

I retired to bed, but I had trouble sleeping and ended up walking
through the halls until it felt closer to dawn than to midnight.
Several times I passed Brouhaha; he, too, was unable to sleep, but
that didn’t stop him from chiding me. He insisted that I would need a
good night’s sleep in order for my spells to be of any use, should
they be needed.

While we argued, a commotion rang down from the stairs leading to the
battlements. One of the sentries came jogging down and grabbed at the
Captain’s arm.

“A visitor, sir!” he panted. “Someone is outside the battlement!”

This claim seemed nonsensical, since the arrow slits were hundreds of
feet above the lake, and the only way to reach them would be to climb
or to fly… and both of those were unlikely. But the soldier was
obviously not lying, so the three of us rushed up the stairs to the
watch room.

Sure enough, a masculine voice was wafting in through an arrow slit,
conversing with the sentry who had remained while the other man ran
for Brouhaha. The voice was odd… soggy and slurred, as if the
speaker were not entirely human. The unseen speaker was apparently
perched on the wall alongside the slit, out of sight.

Captain Brouhaha immediately took charge. The voice explained that he
was a powerful adventurer named Deathreaver. He was magically
inclined, and currently transformed into a fish-man. This didn’t
explain his curious proficiency with climbing, but it did reveal why
his voice sounded so strange.

Deathreaver told us that he and his team intended to get into the city
to help us. He said that he had been waiting all night in one of the
cisterns for the Captain to arrive. This was an odd claim, since the
Captain would normally have never even visited it, and our patrols
only check each of the water stores once a day. But then Deathreaver
explained: he had explored the underwater grates leading from the lake
into the cisterns, and found that one of the grates was loose. He then
swam into the cistern and knocked on the door leading into the city.
Curiously, a man claiming to be a guard responded! Deathreaver had
passed some documents under the door to prove his intent (apparently,
drawings of the siege engines and details about the attacking army).
The man had disappeared, promising to summon the Captain, but never
returned. Eventually Deathreaver grew tired of waiting, and had
climbed to the battlements.

If Deathreaver’s story was true – and we thought that it was – then we
had a spy in our midst! Someone had preceded him through the cistern
and had infiltrated our ranks.

We told Deathreaver that the siege engines were fake, and that we
suspected his party had been attacked while he waited in the cistern.
He grumbled and said that he needed to go save them. He scampered away
and moments later we heard a splash.

Brouhaha then sprang into action. He gathered his most trusted men,
and together they searched the city. It wasn’t long before they
discovered the spy, who had been hiding among us. He put up a fight,
but our soldiers overwhelmed him and put him the sword. Thank
Douchebag that we found him before he could kill us in our sleep, or
poison our provisions!

Dawn came, and we nervously waited through the day. Our sentries
reported that they had spied on a distant battle down the river, in
which they said a single figure had beaten several dozen of the
Overlord’s men. Deathreaver, by these accounts, had presumably either
rescued or avenged his friends! We realized that he would be a truly
awesome ally. And although his companions were obviously less powerful
than he, we still hoped that they were safe and would join us here.

Our attentions, however, turned to more pressing matters. From the
wagons, the invaders had begun to make piles of huge bones. Some of
the bones were twice as large as a man, as if they had raided the
burial grounds of dragons or titans. Men were milling about the piles,
but it was unclear what their purpose was.

Finally, evening arrived, and torches and campfires flickered to life.
But instead of beginning to retire, as they had on previous nights,
the soldiers began to assemble around the bone piles. They seemed
cheerful, as if attending some exciting event. From our vantage, it
looked as if some great ritual were being performed, to the amusement
of the invaders. Then, suddenly, the bone piles began to shake and the
men began to cheer. Impossibly, the bones slithered together and huge
forms began to rise from the piles. In mere seconds, two titanic
skeletons stood before the city, nearly fifty feet high!

Panic began to spread through the city as word came down from the
battlements. We could resist siege engines and men, and perhaps even a
dragon… but these aberrations could likely pound our doors down with
their unnatural, massive fists. The city was on the verge of being
overrun, and there was little we could do to prevent it!

Captain Brouhaha tried to calm the chaos, but he himself was at a loss
to provide a plan. Eventually, we decided that we would send the bulk
of our population deep into the mines, and a small force would remain
behind to fight off the attackers as long as we could. Our men would
certainly be slaughtered, but for some reason – a reason which even
now I can’t justify – we thought it was better to make a stand than
for everyone to flee into the mines.

Our sentries reported that luckily the Overlord’s men were not
preparing to attack that night. The skeletons stood motionless beside
the lake, but the men beneath them were returning to their fires and
tents.

The city emptied quickly, and soon there were only the fifty of us
remaining. I saw Brouhaha entering the great hall from the tunnel that
led to the southern cisterns, and he was leading a group of people
that I had never seen before! An elf, a dwarf, a half-orc, a halfling,
a gnome, and four humans (three of them children) followed the
Captain. He introduced them as Deathreaver’s band, come to help us in
the coming battle!

The children were refugees, and one of our men quickly whisked them
away to join our population in the mines. Captain Brouhaha brought the
heroes up to speed about our plans, and from their faces I could tell
that they were unimpressed. They shouldn’t have blamed Brouhaha, of
course… he was just the captain of a small thousand-person city, and
was more accustomed to dealing with domestic disputes than with
invading armies.

Deathreaver and his party immediately began to plan for the defense of
the city. They discouraged us from arranging ourselves behind the
stone doors – which had been our plan – and instead identified a
defensible position in the deeper halls that would allow us to stage a
defense but also to retreat if necessary. They told us that the black
dragon would be attacking with the army of men and skeletons, and thus
they chose a spot that would fit neither dragon nor huge undead. We
would be fighting men and ‘normal’ skeletons, and Deathreaver was
confident that we could do them some damage.

Through the night, they taught the soldiers coordinated tactics, such
as targeting spellcasters and staging unrelenting missile volleys.
They told us to use blunt weapons and slings against skeletons,
instead of the crossbows we’d use on the humans. We set up traps in
the halls, dumped oil that we could set alight, and searched the city
for alchemical weapons and other assets.

While we prepared to meet the invaders, our sentries kept a careful
watch on the army. Some of our men had spent the night firing burning
arrows on to the shoreline, to try to give the attackers as restless a
night as we were having.

Finally, after morning had come, an alarm rang down from the
battlements and we received word that the skeletons were entering the
lake, towing rafts behind them.

We all retreated to our positions in the hall where we would make our
stand. Crates and barrels were positioned around the perimeter, so
that we would have cover against spells or missiles as we attacked
anyone who entered the hall. We waited there, fear growing, as
impossibly loud banging began to echo from the stone doors.

It wasn’t long before we heard the sickening crash of the doors
breaking, and we knew that the enemy was upon us. The army must have
swarmed into the city once the doors were breached, because we soon
heard the marching of dozens of invaders in the corridor. But instead
of being the human soldiers, the first attackers were hideous
skeletons that surged toward us. Our priests turned some of them away,
and most of the others fell prey to our slings. Only a few made it
into the room, and those were quickly smashed apart by our warriors.

We had no time to celebrate after so easily dispatching the first
wave, because almost immediately a group of soldiers thundered into
the corridor. We were ready for them, however. Deathreaver’s men were
ready with powerful fireballs and lightning bolts, which took out many
of the attacking soldiers and set the oil in the hallway on fire. The
rest of us unleashed volleys of crossbow bolts, and once again only a
few attackers remained to enter the hall. A short battle ensued, and
once again we were victorious.

We had just taken our positions again when a fireball erupted inside
the room. Several of our men were killed, and we saw a wizard who had
materialized at the end of the corridor. Dozens of quarrels flew into
him, and many of them found their mark. He died in a violent splatter
of blood.

We took our places again, training our crossbows down the corridor.
Far away, we could see the end of the great hall. Several of the
Overlord’s wizards had gathered there, and two more fireballs exploded
in the room, felling a few more of our men. We fired another volley at
them, but many of the bolts fell short. After the attckers cast a
spell of magical darkness in front of them to hide their activities,
Deathreaver ordered that the doors to our room be shut as well.

We waited, with a sentry carefully looking through the crack between
the doors. Several minutes passed, with no sign of the attackers. We
hadn’t lowered our guard, but somehow one of the invaders had entered
our sanctum, and we heard the sound of someone casting a spell. A
surge of necromancy flooded the room, and several of our soldiers
dropped dead where they stood!

Confusion began to spread. Deathreaver’s half-orc retreated into the
escape tunnel, and many others looked ready to follow him. But before
we could sound a retreat, another surge of necromancy hit us, and a
few more warriors died! Panicked, we ran into the tunnels.

We fled for a long time, heading deeper into the mines in the hopes
that our invisible attacker would not pursue us alone. Once we felt we
were safe, Brouhaha stopped us and issued orders. We would collapse
the tunnels behind us, and join the citizens of our city in the mines.
Hopefully some day, we would break through the rubble and retake our
city… or escape into the snowy mountains… but for now, we would
hide in the mines. Deathreaver and his party insisted that they would
seek out the wizard Randalf, so Brouhaha provided them with a map to a
mine exit into the mountains.

We parted ways then, and collapsed the tunnel. Through the falling
debris, I caught a final glimpse of the heroes as they walked away. I
prayed then, and pray every day now, that they will return some day to
lead us to reclaim our city. Or just to open up the tunnels again. Or
even to bring us some food, since we forgot to bring any. Hail
Deathreaver and his merry band, somewhat saviors of our grateful city!

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cdmoyer

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